Branching out

Stepping out of one's comfort zone applies to more than just individuals. Some established names have taken on the challenge of entering new industries, and are already enjoying benefits from the resulting synergies.

Tay Suan Chiang
Published Fri, Nov 7, 2014 · 09:50 PM
Share this article.

Hospitality spirit

Adonis Hotel

13 Purvis Street

FOR nearly 30 years, Adonis Beauty International built up its name as a leading provider of customised body and facial care services for tropical climates.

The homegrown family brand has since taken their brand of tender loving care to a new level with the opening of the Adonis Hotel in Purvis Street.

Andrew Wang, director of Adonis Hotel Management Hospitality, says that the hotel is "an extension of Adonis' and my late grandmother's hospitality spirit".

The hotel is in a conserved shophouse already belonging to the family. It used to house a traditional bakery, Nam Tong Lee, famed for its tau sar piah and mooncakes, which was run by Mr Wang's late grandmother. The shophouse also served as a gathering point for the new immigrant community, when people of diverse backgrounds would meet at the bakery for traditional Hainanese coffee and pastries. The bakery is now gone, and over the years, the family had leased out the shophouse to restaurant operators.

A year ago, the family decided to stop leasing out the shophouse. "Mum and I felt that it could be better used, and it was our idea to start the hotel," says Mr Wang. His mum is Ann Lee, founder of Adonis Beauty.

The two-storey shophouse comes with a six-storey extension at the back, and houses 19 rooms, with rates starting from S$185++ for a queen-sized room. The look of the hotel is an elegant mix of heritage and modernity. The Chinese characters for Nam Tong Lee are still on the pillars, which flank the entrance to the hotel. In the lobby, guests can snack on old school titbits such as White Rabbit Candy, hawthorn flakes and colourful gem biscuits. More substantial meals can be has in the Argo Cafe on the same floor.

The spacious rooms come with amenities typical of a modern hotel, such as complimentary breakfast, mini bar and Wi-Fi. Nespresso machines and rain showers are also found in all rooms. The hotel has three suites - the Artist Suite, Photographer Suite and Explorer Suite. "The artist, explorer and photographer are traditional Hainanese professions, so I wanted to play that up," says Mr Wang.

The Artist Suite is the penthouse suite, and comes with an outdoor bath area. Decorative accessories, such as reflectors used by photographers, and old maps of Singapore adorn the other two suites.

Like most hotels, Adonis Hotel also provides toiletries, but with an added touch. "Our facial wash, shampoo and shower gel, soft peeling gels and body moisturisers are specially formulated by our experts in the beauty side," says Mr Wang. There are no plans to introduce body and skin care services in the hotel, but "we will introduce packages, where we can ferry customers in a limousine to and from the hotel to our salon at Lucky Plaza", he says.

Mr Wang, the middle of three boys, is the only one to be in the family business. His elder brother runs an art gallery, while his younger brother is in the army.

The Bachelor of Business (Management) graduate joined the family business when he was 19, and has been a part of the finance and accounts department since 2006. These days, he spends most of his time at the hotel, but "I am still managing the finances for the salons", he says.

He has introduced the beauty side of the business into the hotel via the range of toiletries. "And from the hotel side, I've managed to quicken the rate of salon room turnovers," he says. He does not rule out opening more hotels in Singapore and hopes to bring the brand to Malaysia and Myanmar. "Running a hotel is very dynamic, and more fun compared to looking at figures," says Mr Wang. "I get to meet different people every day, there is more interaction, and I can see the results of the effort I put into it."

A good fit


#03-15, Ion Orchard

FOR the last 10 years, Proof Living has decked out some of Singapore's most beautiful homes with its well curated range of furniture labels that include Barbara Barry, Poltrona Frau and Baker. And now, its executive director, Yung Ong, wants to dress up Singapore's men with European menswear label Suitsupply.

The 5,500 square foot Suitsupply store at Ion Orchard opened to much fanfare in August.

Mr Ong has always had an interest in all things design, fashion and lifestyle related. "I like to keep abreast of the latest trends in these industries," he says. He first came to know of Suitsupply in an article titled A Hard Working Suit, where the Wall Street Journal conducted a blind test and rated Suitsupply and Giorgio Armani as the top brands for suits amid a host of other brands from the market.

"My team and I travel regularly to America for Proof Living throughout the year and once we went to a Suitsupply store in Chicago," Mr Ong recalls. They immediately knew they were onto something when they walked into the store.

"The store was so exciting. Nothing like a grandfather's tailor or suit shop. There was such a great selection of Italian fabrics and colours. Everything was hand made with an attention to sartorial details and all for a great price," Mr Ong says. "The fit was also amazing. There was something for almost every body type."

He adds, "What's not to love? We were hooked and we knew Singapore would be too." Suitsupply was started by Fokke de Jong in 2000, growing to over 50 stores in Europe, the United States and Asia. "The Suitsupply aesthetic is all about classic tailoring viewed through the lens of modern fashion, a compelling mix of uptown tradition and downtown style," says its Dutch founder.

The Ion Orchard store stocks a collection of summer suits, sport coats, footwear and accessories, including plenty of lightweight fabrics tailor-made for the local climate. Shirts average around S$85 with suits ranging from S$659 to S$1,409 and jackets from S$376 to S$613. Suitsupply's signature tailoring bar fronts the store, ready to make any necessary alterations on the spot.

Mr Ong became an instant fan of the label, from the moment he put on his first Suitsupply jacket. "With jackets, I always thought men often had to sacrifice some comfort to get a flattering shape, but at Suitsupply, everything is hand crafted and nothing is fused, allowing for a more natural drape and breathability while creating a perfect fit which I had never found in any other store," he says.

Naturally, he now wears only Suitsupply everyday, and likes mixing the different colours and pieces to create his own personal look. "Just buying two suits can give at least four different looks," says Mr Ong. He has about 15 to 20 Suitsupply suits, "they give me great flexibility to be appropriately dressed for any season or occasion".

It seems that Mr Ong is not the only one smitten with the label. "We have had great response to the store from the very first day it opened and we are already making plans for a second store in Singapore and also to explore expansion opportunities regionally," says Mr Ong.

Running a furniture company and a fashion store could not be more different. "They are completely different industries which require an entirely unique skill set and process," says Mr Ong. "What I have found though is that both businesses involve a very personal experience with the customer and I love the joy and excitement we bring to our clients in all our businesses, be it in furniture and housewares, fashion or F&B."

Mr Ong's family also owns nightlife hub Peranakan Place, where they own the Acid Bar, Alley Bar and Outdoors Cafe & Bar. He says that branching out from furniture into fashion was by chance. "I'd say we are always keeping our eyes open to great ideas and possibilities. The only limits we place on ourselves is that whatever we do, it has to be something that enhances our customer's life experience."

Home for creativity

The Refinery (opening year end)

115 King George's Avenue

COLIN Chen, co-founder of The General Company (TGC), never wanted to go into the restaurant business. "We have all heard the horror stories from our close friends in the industry and were very sceptical about it."

TGC started in 2012 with the objective of creating crafted experiences and an environment where regular folk could get to meet craftsmen and designers. "We have always been about bringing people together and building a cohesive community and there is no better way than to do it with exciting conversations over food and drink," says Mr Chen. "So we are not jumping into F&B per se but rather we wanted to create a place in Singapore where the independent creative community can come together to do really fun and interesting projects."

Their new project is called The Refinery, a three-storey multi-disciplinary concept house within an old industrial building. It consists of a casual dining restaurant, an intimate bar and an artisan workspace.

For now, Mr Chen prefers to keep things mum and would only reveal that "we will be bringing together quality Asian cuisine alongside a tailored beverage programme, as well as a home for the local creative community of craftsmen and designer".

The first level of The Refinery has high ceilings and large open plan seating for versatile event planning.

Smaller but more intimate, the bar is nestled on the mezzanine level accessible by a small private spiral staircase. Its dim and industrial chic decor makes it perfect for small group gatherings as it overlooks the restaurant from the second floor.

Level three of the complex will house what is believed to be Singapore's first co-working space for craftsmen and designers. It will house a collective of creatives with expertise ranging from woodworking, printmaking, leathercraft to industrial design, graphic design and photography.

Over the past couple of years, the local craft and design scene has grown by leaps and bounds with workshops, such as those organised by TGC. Mr Chen notes that as the scene matures, it is important for local craftsmen and designers to further build on fundamentals and to improve upon their skill sets and expertise.

"One of the best ways to do so is to interact and learn from other craftsmen from other trades. This is what The Refinery Studio is about. It's a space to bring talented individuals to a single studio where we can be truly multi-disciplinary; to be able to research, craft and develop better experiences and goods," he says.

He adds that TGC hopes to bring more enjoyable culinary and mixology experiences, "which are crafts in their own right".

The Refinery is a joint venture between architecture firm Architology and TGC. "The strategic alliance now allows TGC to create unique hands-on experiences which Architology can help to elevate through better spatial design, something which we couldn't really control in the past," says Mr Chen.

Extending beyond design


79 Chay Yan Street, #01-02

IF YOU have been to Neko no Niwa Cat Cafe at Boat Quay, you would have noticed cats jumping in and out or perched on top of various wooden boxes across the café.

Called the Kin Box, it's a modular coffee table cum cat habitat system that can be used singly or configured with multiple cubes to create bigger, interconnected rooms for the feline residents. Each has a sunken table top that conveniently contains any spilled drinks for easy maintenance.

Kin Box is just one of the several furniture and home accessories that graphic design firm Bureau has created, under the label Bureauware.

Bureau was started in 2009, and some of its projects include designing a coffee table book to mark Wing Tai's 50th Anniversary, and creating the branding collateral for Outpost 903 gastrobar. Edmund Seet, a partner of the firm, says Bureauware was started as a "need to extend ourselves beyond the services of design".

The product arm was launched in 2012, "to facilitate some of the items that we were toying around with, like the MOE chair series, the Pyggy Bank exhibition curated by FARM for Singapore Art Museum", says Mr Seet. "We also use this platform to merchandise some of the furniture pieces we used in an interior design job for a restaurant set up." The Pyggy Bank, for Singapore Art Museum, is a piggy bank shaped like a pig's trotter. It retails for S$128.

Another quirky piece that Bureauware has created is the MOE Chair. This is a series of six chairs inspired by "our primary school chair from the 1980s", says Mr Seet. Each of the six pieces was given a design twist. Reworked with a high back, as a twin seater, barstool, ottoman and rocker, the collection expands the versatility of one very hardy, old school design.

In Bureauware's first limited production run, each chair frame is hand finished in galvanised one-inch steel pipes and powder coated in either grey, black or white. The wooden seat panels and backrests are made from white cedar wood which makes them suitable for outdoor use. For die-hard fans, the hardboard backing seat panels used in the original school chairs are also available upon special request. The MOE chair retails from S$368 for a single seater.

Kin Box was specially created for Neko no Niwa, and Mr Seet and his team are still in the midst of sourcing the right production partner.

Mr Seet points out the difference between creating a graphic design work and creating a physical product. "Products provide a different tactility and engages with the audience differently. Sometimes the response is more immediate or evident," he says. Asked if there are plans to expand the range of items for retail, Mr Seet says, "the short answer would be no, as at this point we are still at an investigative stage, finding the right partners is key in terms of quality control, experimentation and partnerships."

BT is now on Telegram!

For daily updates on weekdays and specially selected content for the weekend. Subscribe to



Get the latest coverage and full access to all BT premium content.


Browse corporate subscription here